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5-min read

Why Meryl Streep is the Perfect Arch-nemesis of Monterey Five in Big Little Lies

Streep plays the role of Mary Louise in the show, which incidentally happens to be the birth name of the actress, although, she is better known by her nickname, Meryl.

Simantini Dey | News18.com

Updated:June 19, 2019, 10:48 AM IST
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Why Meryl Streep is the Perfect Arch-nemesis of Monterey Five in Big Little Lies
Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep in a still from Big Little Lies Season 2.
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Apparently, Nichole Kidman had sent a text to Meryl Streep asking her if she wanted to be in the second season of Big Little Lies, and the actress, without so much as glancing at the script, had said yes. In an interview to ET Online, Streep revealed that she had never signed a film without reading the script before, but she 'believed in these girls' of Big Little Lies. "That first season just blew me away," said Streep.

"I loved everything about it, the writing, the depth of the performances, the style, the music. It was a whole world and I couldn't wait to see where it was going to go," she added.

Now that two episodes of the second season are out, we all know exactly which way the show is heading, and despite the same atmospheric setting of sun-kissed beaches in the wealthy little town of Monterey, intense performances by an A-list cast, and several important themes interlaced in a complex screenplay, the only saving grace of Big Little Lies is Meryl Streep. Streep plays the role of Mary Louise in the show, which incidentally happens to be the birth name of the actress, although, she is better known by her nickname, Meryl.

In Big Little Lies, Streep's Mary Louise is the grieving mother of Perry Wright (Alexander Skarsgard), who is planning to settle down in Monterey so that she can help out her daughter-in-law Celeste (Kidman) raise her two boys. But, like everything else in Big Little Lies, Mary Louise's intentions aren't that simple. Streep's character is also suspicious of the circumstances under which her son died and is desperate to get to the bottom of things, which is terrible news for Monterey Five, who are already struggling to keep up the lie they had told about Perry's death, and their lives have begun to unravel because of it.

Read: Black Mirror Season 5 Episode 1 Review

If you think of it, there is no one better than Meryl Streep to play the arch-nemesis to the likes of Reese Witherspoon's Madeline, and Nicole Kidman's Celeste. Streep's Mary Louise seems innocuous at the first meeting, an old, kind-hearted mother-in-law, folding laundry, and making dinners for her son's family, as she deals with her grief of losing her child.

But, given that the role is being played by Streep, we instantly know Mary Louise will be anything but insignificant. With fake dentures and long baggy sweaters, she quietly moves in and out of the frame, often catching Celeste in her worst moments of guilt, and anxiety. But, it is during her passive aggressive interactions with Madeline, we really get to see what's underneath her reticent demeanour.

At the dinner table, as Mary Louise tells her grandsons how she resented her friends because their 'pudgy balding middle-management sons' are still alive, while her perry is dead, you can feel her anger, all balled up inside of her. And, if that isn't indication enough, she lets out a loud scream to show her grandsons how angry it made her that her son, their father, was dead. The scream has now become the stuff of thousand memes, but that moment alone gives us a glimpse of the volatile emotions in Mary Lousie, that is waiting to erupt.

Streep's Mary Louise is undoubtedly pernicious, but despite her fiendishness, she hardly comes across as a threat. With her quiet manners and soft voice, Mary Louise even accuses Celeste of having a motive to murder Perry. "You were planning to leave him, the very night he died, you left that out (in front of the police)." she says, as she mentally tries to map out the night of her son's death, and then decidedly adds, "You learned of his infidelity just 10 seconds before he went falling down a flight of stairs to his death, Ohhh, you left that out too."

However, despite her viciousness, Mary Louise cannot be relegated to the realms of villains, and that is what adds complexity and layers to this otherwise drab second season of Big Little Lies. While Perry was positively horrid, and therefore, the obvious bad guy in the first season, Streep's Mary Louise is far more complicated. Mary Louise is brutally honest, and all her viciousness towards Madeline and Celeste stems from strong maternal instincts, and grief of losing her son. So, in a way, although you are in favour of Monterey Five, Streep makes it really hard to love them, or root for them.

If Mary Louise is a plot ploy by the makers of Big Little Lies, it is definitely a good one because Streep's character is the only thing saving this show from becoming an overdrawn, and tired version of its earlier installment. There has been much brouhaha about why Big Little Lies, which was supposed to be a miniseries, has been serialised. However, I beg to differ. A group of five very different women coming together to tell a perfect lie to get away from being held accountable for a crime are bound to turn on one another. And, when things do unravel, you would want to know how they failed to keep the lie, or at least I did. So, the problem definitely isn't the fact that a second season has been made, but how it has been made.

A self-aware drama with an abundance of dark comedy, and a sharp understanding of human emotions, Big Little Lies in its first season made for an interesting watch. The themes of domestic violence, consent, and sexual assault were dealt with deftly, as we watched the painful disintegration of Celeste and Perry's marriage and Perry's subsequent death in the climax. But, this season, the show seems less like a social commentary, and more like a better-made version of The Real Housewives, and that is definitely not a good thing. Will Streep be able to save it? We'll have to wait and see.

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